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Posts Tagged ‘burma’

refugee-moo-paw-with-vegetables
Photo: Sean Powers
Karen refugee Moo Paw shows the vegetables she’s grown at the Neighbor’s Field in North Carolina.

I’m always interested in what Karen refugees from Myanmar (Burma) are doing as they adjust to new lives in the United States — especially as I know Mia, a Karen woman in one of the Rhode Island English classes where I volunteer.

At the radio show Living on Earth (LOE), there’s an interesting Karen farming story from producer Sean Powers of Georgia Public Broadcasting and the Bitter Southerner podcast.

“BOBBY BASCOMB [LOE managing producer]: The United States has long been a place for political refugees to seek safety and put down roots, in some cases literally. In Comer, Georgia, a community garden called the Neighbor’s Field is helping refugees work through their trauma by working the land. …

“POWERS: It’s a hot Saturday afternoon in Comer, Georgia. Moo Paw is feeding her chickens, hens, goats, and ducks. There’s even a donkey. You could say they’re kind of like her babies. She is one of the many refugees at the Neighbor’s Field, who fled violence and persecution in Myanmar. That’s the country formerly known as Burma. …

“She says Burmese soldiers kidnapped her father, and used him as a porter to carry food for them. After leaving Myanmar, Moo Paw lived in a refugee camp in Thailand before moving to the United States with her husband and children. They relocated to the Atlanta area, before settling here in Comer. Her son, Tahay Than, says moving to Comer was to satisfy Moo Paw’s green thumb.

“TAHAY: My mom, where she lived in Burma or Thailand, she always liked to plant. You know, working the farm. So, when she farms, that makes her feel like she is home or something, like in a home country, mother country or something. So that’s why she moved to Comer. …

“PAW: My garden. Here vegetables. Here grass. Me planted the cucumbers this year. Here sweet potato. Very beautiful.

“POWERS: It’s that beauty that takes Moo Paw back to memories of her family. She and her son Tahay say in Myanmar, farming for their family was a way of life.

“PAW: My grandmother planted rice, peanuts. Chili, corn.

“TAHAY: Most of the time, everybody who lived in Burma, they would plant in order to survive.

“POWERS: And that makes this garden all the more meaningful. The vegetables growing here, they don’t look like your typical produce that you would find at most supermarkets in the United States. That’s because the seeds come from Myanmar and Thailand. …

“POWERS: The flavors growing in Moo Paw’s soil are just a small part of the pie. There are two-dozen plots of land at the Neighbor’s Field that are being rented by refugees from Myanmar. For a large plot, it’s a hundred dollars a year. Rebecca Smith [who versees the day-to-day operations at the Neighbor’s Field], says it’s been incredible to see how working the farm helps build community. …

“SMITH: They’re just amazing foragers, they can figure out how to cook everything and make it taste good, and it’s just stuff that we think are weeds. Like sometimes people will be out here just butchering a pig for a celebration or Moo Paw’s out here feeding her chickens and people in the garden and you just feel like you’re in a different world, not Comer, Georgia.”

More at Living on Earth, here. In North Carolina, too, there are Karen refugees working on farms. Read this at Transplanting Traditions.

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There are so many interesting cultures in the world! For example, when I was editor of a magazine about lower-income issues in New England, I heard for the first time about the Karen from Burma (Myanmar). Who? Soon after, I managed to acquire an article on Karen refugees in Waterbury, Connecticut, so I was able to learn something along with my readers.

Recently, I heard of another new-to-me minority, members of which are being resettled in Massachusetts. They are called Mandeans, and their pacifist religious beliefs had subjected them to persecution in Iraq and Iran for millennia.

Here is what Brian MacQuarrie writes about them at the Boston Globe.

“The Mandaeans have found safety and acceptance since they began arriving [in Worcester] in 2008, freely practicing a monotheistic religion that predates Christianity and Islam. But they still do not have a temple — a ‘mandi’ for baptisms, marriages, and birth and death rituals — and whether one is built could determine if they continue to call Worcester home.

” ‘Work is not the anchor, living in an apartment is not an anchor, the mandi is the anchor,’ said Wisam Breegi, a leader of the Mandaean community. …

” ‘It really is a culture that is in danger of disappearing,’ said Marianne Sarkis, an anthropology professor at Clark University. ‘If you don’t have a way of preserving the culture and traditions and even the language’ of Aramaic — what a temple helps provide — ‘it is not going to survive very long.’ …

“ ‘We really don’t have the expertise, the know-how, the connections,’ said Breegi, who also has founded a scientific firm that is developing a low-cost, disposable, neonatal incubator for use in developing countries.

“To help forge the religious connections, Breegi and Sarkis are preparing an application for a nonprofit organization to help raise money for the temple. Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty said in an interview he is willing to help the project where he can.

“ ‘They’re all doing what everyone else is trying to do — working hard and getting their kids a good education.’ …

” ‘It’ll just help make Worcester stronger in the long run,’ Petty said of his city’s embrace of Mandaeans and other immigrants. ‘You can’t build walls between people.’ ”

Worcester held a ceremony of welcome in April that “represented the first time — anywhere, at any time — that Mandaeans had been recognized as a valued, important minority group, Sarkis said.” Wow.

More here.

Photo: Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff
The Kalmashy family (left to right) Lilo, and her husband Mahdi and their daughters and Sura and Sahar, shared lunch at their home in Worcester.

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One place that refugees are making a life for themselves is in Kansas City, Kansas, where some are bridging their current and former lives through farming.

Oluwakemi Aladesuyi reports at National Public Radio, “In the midst of boxy yellow and brown public housing, beyond the highway and past empty grain elevators, sits Juniper Farm. It’s spread over nine acres on the Kansas side of Kansas City.

“As their children play on the grassy knoll behind us, four women sit at a plastic picnic table speaking in Karen, a language spoken in parts of Myanmar [Burma].

“They’re students at a program called New Roots for Refugees. The program aims to teach the basics and business of farming [in America] to refugees over the course of four years. At the end, many of the graduates are ready to start farms of their own.

“It’s a joint effort between Catholic Charities and Cultivate Kansas City, a nonprofit that encourages locally grown food and urban agriculture. …

“Many of the men and women at New Roots come from Myanmar or Bhutan. Some were farmers in their homelands. But farming on the outskirts of Kansas City is different: the land, the crops and even the weather. …

“Many who’ve come here are happy to have escaped violence. But adapting to life in a new country, with a different language and customs, is still difficult. Many refugees struggle economically. …

“August Gaw [is] 25 years old and often translates for her mother, Beh paw Gaw, who graduated from New Roots a few years ago. …

“August used to come here to help her mother. But now Beh paw has her own 3-acre farm which she runs with her sister. Last year the operation made more than $10,000. The potential to make money is important; many refugee families live below the poverty level.” More here.

Read the story if you have time. One striking aspect: farm manager and adviser Sam Davis, an African American, experienced real intolerance when moving to Kansas from Arkansas, but to one of the Karen women, who had seen extreme isolation of different ethnic groups in Myanmar, America seems prejudice-free.

You might also be interested in this article on Karen people who were relocated to Waterbury, Connecticut. Written by John Giammatteo, it appeared in Communities & Banking magazine in 2012.

Photo: Oluwakemi Aladesuyi/NPR
Beh paw Gaw is a New Roots graduate and a Karen refugee from Myanmar. Now she has her own three acre farm which she runs with her sister.

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